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Roy Blount Jr.
July 04, 1977
This article may cause acute mental discomfort, nausea and fainting spells, but stouthearted readers will learn more than they ever wanted to know about... CHAWS
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July 04, 1977


This article may cause acute mental discomfort, nausea and fainting spells, but stouthearted readers will learn more than they ever wanted to know about... CHAWS

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Although 35% of major-leaguers chew some form of tobacco, it no longer seems to disturb front offices. " Mickey Mantle liked a good chew," recalls Steve Hamilton, "but the Yankees frowned on it. Said it spoiled his image. So Mickey would sneak out and grab a wad on the sly." When AstroTurf was new, Houston owner Roy Hofheinz called down from his box to order Nellie Fox to stop spitting in the coaching box. But no one complains about tobacco on artificial turf now. Only bubble gum provokes restrictive measures. Houston Manager Bill Virdon has a rule that no player can blow bubbles during the national anthem. His predecessor, Harry Walker, ordered all bubble gum removed from the clubhouse—players were throwing it at each other and Walker feared someone would get hit in the eye.

"Players today are more sophisticated," notes Milwaukee Coach Harvey Kuenn, with some sarcasm.

If oldtimers are put off by bubble gum, another trend in chewing has something to offend nearly everybody: the mixing of tobacco and gum. An early experimenter was the former National Leaguer Frank Torre, who, according to Dalrymple, "would take a stick of gum and a big piece of chewing tobacco and tighten it up into a wad. Then he'd take chewing gum and wrap it all the way around until there was no tobacco showing. Then he'd stick that into his cheek and it would make him look like he had a big chew of tobacco in there, but in reality most of it was sugar."

Also at work in this field at about the same time was former Yankee Coach Frank Crosetti. "He started mixing gum with tobacco because it lasted longer," says Sy Berger, a Topps vice-president. "After that we mixed a batch of bubble gum with a tobacco flavor."

Only for him, though. The gumbacco chaw did not come into its own until three or four years ago. Milwaukee Manager Alex Grammas, then a Cincinnati coach, introduced the technique to Johnny Bench and it spread from there.

"I marinate mine in a soft drink," says Merv Rettenmund. "My best is the 6� special—the deluxe gumball. I take two large sugarless sticks of gum and one flavored. I chew them until the gum is moist and soft. Then I take it out of my mouth, sit down on the bench, spread it on my knee into a big square and put a clump of tobacco in the middle of it. I wrap the gum around the tobacco and pop it back in."

Darrel Chaney of the Braves says he wraps gum on "two or three sides or all the way around" his tobacco. "Gives it body," he says. "But you have to use dental floss like crazy after a game."

"I chew four sticks of gum for half an hour, then wrap it around the tobacco," says Cincinnati Manager Sparky Anderson. "Albert, my son, tells me I'm a sissy for using the gum with it. Albert is 14 and he chews. He chews at home, too. He's got a spittoon in his room."

Pitcher Clyde Wright, now retired, whose eight-pack-a-day tobacco consumption may have been an alltime high, is said to have been able to chew tobacco and bubble gum, smoke a cigarette and drink V.O. all at once. A mixing act like that is hard to follow.

"I used to wrap gum around my chew, like twine on a ball," says Tiger Catcher John Wockenfuss. "But it was too much trouble." Now Wockenfuss is one of the few big-leaguers who bites off chunks of plug tobacco—Cannonball is his favorite brand—instead of taking it loose from a pouch.

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